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#464210 - 04/17/14 12:04 PM
Loc: American South
Swan river flows along a path never intended for human feet. A larger river, two hundred miles long, called “French,” is what Swan leads to. Ground is first broke in the eighteenth century along Christian Creek, a tributary of Swan river by David, a soldier redeeming a land grant at the point where the water “English” and the water “French” meet.
The forest kills the soldier. There are rumors of humans – not of Christ, but of Nature instead. On foot, the soldier's wife, children, and female slave flee sixteen miles to the nearest Christian fort. The soldier's brother and his sister's husband return for justice and the corpse. Months pass in the forest. The wife, children, and female slave return, and the extended family arrive to settle at the mouth of Bee Tree.
War breaks. Union forces are pushed away to the north by a platoon of mostly locals.
Union forces return.
On October second, eighteen eighty, a railroad reaches the city of Ashe. On November twentieth, nineteen thirty, eight of the nine local banks fail. Only Wachovia remains due to infusions of cash from other sources. Though Ashe owes fifty million due to the building of roads and buildings, Ashe refuses to default, then remains impoverished. Everything is properly preserved for fifty years before the debt is finally paid in full.
“Even a class A,” he says. “Of course I cannot compete with your previous salary,” the store manager says, interviewing me in the newspaper, books, and magazine section of a coffee house surrounded by a grocery store.
“No, of course.”
“... No, the house is on the line where the two properties meet ...” says a woman reaching up for ricotta cheese.
Despite the high-turnover rate, most employees have worked here at least a decade. I only have four actual coworkers. We are called the Milk Men.
“ … The two families came home from church,” she's saying to someone. “The brothers and the father of the one family then murder the brothers and the father of the other family ...”
I work mostly on my own but for Wally, a likeable, jolly oddity with gray hair and glasses. He's worked here twenty-seven years and works a part time job in fast food to make ends meet. This shift works three sections: milk, eggs, and juice, in that order of importance, each section taking an hour or two of work. Other sections are only done once a day each. Working on the floor at a grocery store of a recently-small mountain town will make you want to stop drinking the water, but it's something to be surrounded by such literate folks.
“ … Then they come back to dinner. The house is where the sister lived. After dinner they killed the last brother, her husband.”
Larke, a twenty-one-year-old, works nights in Video: “He graduated high school in two-thousand six and went straight into the Marines,” he says. “In the winter of two thousand seven we showed up for his graduation at Paris Island, South Carolina. I busted my hand in with the lid of the trunk of our car … I stood there for a long time with it closed and my hand crushed because I didn't want to break my fingers. They took me to the Military hospital and I was refused treatment because I was civilian. My brother had been promoted to Lance Corporal and we thought he'd be promoted again at graduation but instead they gave it to some fat chick who had been recycled three times – she had more time in service. My brother was the platoon – or whatever – leader throughout boot camp because he was that kind of guy, a hard worker, then staying up til four and five in the morning to return letters. He would be fired from his position regularly – usually in time for the weekend, when they would give it to someone else for awhile, but by Monday he had it again. I remember him giving me a tour of the barracks and another graduating Marine was there. A Drill Instructor stepped in and the Marine kept referring to himself as “This recruit.” The Drill Instructor had to tell him he was graduated now. It scared me, him being brainwashed like that.”
The harsh, beautiful girl runs the mid-level bureaucracy of the school in a building of waiting rooms. Where professors, deans, and department heads are not required, she is, to a population of students who truly believe. There are posters of “cool” nerds, and “jock” computer analysts throughout the school, even billboards out on the highway implying that those in school have made a conscious choice to be an American with a future. While taking the school's placement exams, it took me an extra hour and a half. The harsh, beautiful girl kept standing outside the glass room of computers, looking in with an expression of concern on her face.
The waiting-room-news is of a city of riots up north, some martyr knowing its reaping while everyone laughs at them. 'Started with a pregnant woman missing while police are saying she must have been beaten for a long time. Somehow those interviewed were telling the truth, only they didn't know it. Race was involved from the first. Now other stories have popped up.
Listening to the horrors, I'm lucky to have written for the marginalized, misrepresented and abandoned first ... Surely the rest have enough Western libraries to sift through at their convenience ... I cannot sell sex and cannot teach erroneously on purpose, so I cannot compete with media, and wonder about those who can. The writings' market is one-in-ten of six, maybe seven percent of all human beings, and even then the reader would have to know English. This minority has always been preferred. They are the only ones whom I trust know what I have known since birth – what it is like to be hated by all from dusk til dawn and deep in one's own sleep for no other reason than the fact of your innocence. Of them, I am one of the few born “dumb,” so their story is worse. It's one reason why on the original, barely-standing website, where the novelette actually began, I fit in. The website turned out not just an online support group for abused men, women, and teenagers, many still living out such situations, and careful to write … well … but also something else.
While registering for classes, the clerk helping me is “Wilton” gay, not because he is overweight and competitive – even down to what kind of books I like – but because of how he is measuring me up. He is kind as he registers me for my classes but also employs a conversational technique where certain, “intellectuals-only,” words are dropped. Maybe he was once shy, then became a control-freak-with-a-personality, now he's in college and his strategy cannot take me walking into the room.
I run into her at the downtown library, where the homeless pretend to be studious while Ashe's newest arrivals use the internet. She has moved here.
“Not because of you,” she says as her fingers trail the book bindings of the library shelves. “Work. I didn't know you had set up here.”
“I can't remember what it was that you did.”
She gives me a look.
“You're good at it,” she says. “Running into people.”
Montana is an obvious burner – promotion-wise.
“You're too young to be this much of a mess,” I tell him as he he clocks in just in time, pulls his blood red uniform over an undershirt, then tucks into khaki's.
The truth of him is that he's devastated; he's really happy all the time because he's good at it, he's too genuine to know how else to be, always fearless, always thriving on even the least challenges. Restlessly, he demands to be happy in each and every moment and the place he demands it from is the place no one can reach.
“He likes you,” the night manager says. “He said it was like talking to a dictionary.”
“Yeah, I like him a lot.”
She was born and raised here, survived the elementary and high schools and conformed well to magazines. Her eyes remind me of Kenley, as if Ashe was once a rural town I used be some sort of foster kid at.
“He has a temper,” she says.
I watched part of a documentary once where a female director had filmed a script similar to “American Pie,” except the genders had been switched and the writings were kept realistic. “No distributors,” the director said. Though only twenty-three, the night manager knows these women like the back of her hand. She seems to know that I have never met such women. It is why she is a better storyteller. While knowing nothing of my past she seems to know Grace must've been a good woman even at an age where that remained impossible.
She also works across the street from the grocery at an Italian Restaurant, different because it is all from scratch, but good. Somehow everyone knows my name but I already knew them before I realized she worked here. They have a familial environment like they want to be a home for art.
“Don't fall asleep at that bar,” she says as she wipes tables against the large French doors open onto the street.
I awaken, not realizing I was watching her. She had paused a moment and looked out the doors into the lights, buildings, and concrete, a tray held up in the flat of her hand.
“You almost looked Italian, there.” I reply.
“What does that mean?” she says.
“Bosslady's all in my biz,” I tell him. “But it's probably Lorne.”
“The store-manager's name is Jim,” Montana replies. His eyes are blue, probably, maybe green, or hazel, hard to tell, they are so quick and bright, causing one to stare. They are set into the hollows of his eye sockets, making the eyes seem large. His face is pronounced and clear as if his skin was thin and his bones muscular. His hair is blonde but maybe brown, giving it a gray affect, matching the dark half-circles under his eyes. He asks me about my education.
“I got my G-E-D after I got back.”
“How'd you join the military,” he says as he finishes pushing a row of four carts into a line with the rest of them. The night is damp, but not cold. He saves one cart to put the full trash bags in as he empties the cans in front of the grocery store.
“At first they didn't accept what I'd been using as documents to get by,” I finally answer. “The recruiter rejected the paperwork. I had to find a – what is it called, those people who make documents official – a notary – who would stamp it.”
In the chow hall of Rustic, a film plays to no one.
Antony Hopkins must hint toward his employer's soon-to-be-married, but father-less, godson that sex exists.
“With the arrival of spring . . . ” Antony Hopkins says to Hugh Grant. “We shall see a remarkable and profound change in all surroundings.”
I walk the straight, center way through the maze of hedges as a black bear lifts itself into an industrial trash bin to my left, on the other side of moonlit forest green. Her cub must be somewhere.
Inside the girl's dormitory Magic Mike plays on the television as I await paperwork for Brick.
Brick arrived at Rustic the day after me. So far we rarely if ever speak to each other; both of us know we have that little in common. He is all natural, incapable of wrongdoing, even after he has done enough wrong things to end up here. He looks like that guy from John Tucker Must Die, only Caucasian with deeply sage eyes. His past selfishness is the same as mine, but due to the selflessness of his true personality, his seems less forgivable. While my path has been outside Rustic, his has led into his becoming a house manager and part of the staff, which puts us as the two most powerful members of our original “preppie” group, living in two different sides of Rustic's world. We are both isolated because no else at Rustic has been such a burner as he, and no one else at Rustic works full time while going to college. Once, while we were preppies, we found the valley of the five train-tunnels, then got lost trying to reach the group of preppies we had ducked out of. At the time I was embarrassed, not afraid to climb mountains trying to reach the group, while Brick found an easier path. It was clear he had somehow lived his life without having to compete in the race to any extent like mine, he was already a winner, like Royal, one of SFC Denton's “killers.”
On Charlie Rose at some point, as I walk the aisles of the college library:
“... these families of artists incidentally creating … “
says some sort of director.
“Bosslady's all on my case,” I tell him.
Though he is seventeen Montana keeps calling her his fiance. As we cashier and bag groceries I lecture him on the temple of marriage – it can only stand by way of two, equally powerful, separate columns. Her coming by the grocery is a rarity, so quick he points her out to me.
“Montana, that is not a wife, that's a teenage girl.”
“She's nineteen,” he says in defense.
Early as dawn is about to break, I half sleep on my bag against the backseat of Rustic's sixteen passenger van. We are all on our way somewhere, but I do not mind being last because everyone allows me the back to sleep.
This time, one of my favorite people here, River, drives while telling an angry story over classic rock. “If I wanted to do that I'd just take my big dick to the bathroom and jerk the fuck off ...”
He has said this in front of the morning staff meeting. Again, a girl from the other dormitory has been caught trying to send him a letter.
River is obvious, classic, a dynamic storyteller because upon being confronted by the staff he took the opportunity not only to win, but stick up for others here especially concerning present “drama.” Like when a roommate of mine advised a virgin, groom-to-be, “Just FUCK it.” I laughed.
Even if River's antics were only to further put the image in the girls' minds, he is everything an addict is supposed to be. Hence, they keep him around staff meetings.
Brick and I sit in the van alone as River goes in to pay for fuel.
Recently I rid myself of an unwanted roommate controversially. The roommate was military, my age, who enjoyed his times with me – only I had to prepare myself using narcotics; he reminds me of G. I. Joe in Qatar, his personality on the fringes. I dealt with him the way I've learned from every Sergeant I've ever met: quickly, spontaneously, slowly, smoothly going through the subject matters of conversation, honing in on true character. One morning he showed himself again by slipping that he knew my unit of deployment, though I had never said down to platoon and squad – some guys in the military like to make the point of the kind of contacts they have. Some soldiers deal with the dick-measurers and some do not. Royal would have, because he could compete at anything; I do not because I find the concept in my opponent's head to be unmasculine. He realized his mistake, recovered, and left shortly. By the end of the day, I had a slide show of shirtless guys as my laptop's screen-saver and the roommate was gone within the week. Brick would find my actions … disrespectful.
There are people on dates in and out of the station, on their way to parties or clubs. The guys wear purposely-name-brand attire. “Like they're wearing redneck 'costumes,'” I say.
Thirty seconds later Brick busts out laughing. “It is like they're wearing redneck costumes.”
“It's music he jammed while coming off of Lithium,” River is saying as he drives through the night. I sit shotgun.
“Why are you here,” he asks me. The route has taken us into an area where there have been no cars coming either way but ours. River flicks the overheads regularly, as if to remember if they are on or off.
“I turned out to be someone else.”
We listen to the music a long time: a certain part of where the electric guitars sound organic, rough, bluesy.
“Maybe who you were intended to be is better than the one you wanted to be,” he says, accelerating onto the interstate.
The piano score of the film, “The Social Network,” has been stuck in my head for weeks, out of nowhere, considering the years since my hearing it. A piano with a certain base-like sound, one piano note at a time, slowly, only several notes over and over.
“Your brainwashing is developing nicely.”
He puts on more music as we leave Ashe toward the outskirts and the mountains.
“It's like he's saying male-frustration is a legitimate emotional state even if it does not exist within society's structure,” I tell him.
“Who knew you were a rock and roller,” he says with his grainy laugh.
As we arrive back at Rustic he is saying lowly, trying to explain his malfunction: “No matter what I do. I don't know,” he says as the we shut the van doors. “It's like my mind keeps going over the bad stuff I've done … “
“I was ruthless. While Ruth was my favorite character. If I felt it was right; I would do it.”
Inside, comfortable couches surround a large television, its low light directed away from the corner Reception. Half-standing, Nerube motions from the counter and desk, then hands over the yellow phone.
It is Irby, from Second Platoon:
I look at the floor.
“Just college and work, work and college.”
“Oh, yeah. When'd you get out?”
“Been out one year, November.”
“Isn't it something to be out of the military?”
“Thank you for coming in, gentlemen,” Jack, played by Alec Baldwin, says as 30 Rock plays from the television just inside the open window. “I look forward to discovering exactly what each of you has to offer Zarina that I do not. I know she has a sex idiot for uninhibited experimentation … A filthy hippie to make her feel bohemian … Someone to make her parents angry … a mean wall street type … the perfect head of hair … You must be Ken tremendous … We've covered all the classic boyfriend archetypes … Except the father figure … where is that guy, am I right? The one who falls asleep at the opera, and doesn't notice that she's texting her real boyfriend from his bed … ”
“Snowing under a clear sky?”
“That's the snow coming off the mountain peaks,” she says from a sip of her coffee cup, as we step out into Ashe's downtown. She's done a better job of becoming local than I have, an idea she has always found ridiculous. “It'll be like this as long as there's wind.”
As we work in video, Larke and I argue concerning Daniel Day Lewis's portrayal of Lincoln. I am appalled.
“He played the role with historical accuracy despite becoming unpopular for it,” he says.
“His portrayal – has nothing – it's – I don't believe it – I don't want to look at American history with symbolism.”
“I overheard Jacob telling Brick of some fledgling website you've been keeping up,” Nerube whispers in the smokers' gazebo while giving me his best, tell-me-everything smile.
Maybe the V.A. knew the whole time. Maybe everyone has.
“Nerube,” I tell him. “It's a secret.”
“Yeah, but it's not the kind of secret anyone would believe.”
(early morning, during a raid)
“No, it must've been a lucid dream,” I find myself saying to Brick. He stands in my open bedroom doorway, curious at me sitting up in bed.
"None of those people exist," he says with a breathy smile and that way he has of being all-knowing, genuine and pleasant. He makes you want to trade an intellect for whatever he has. Out in the hall, harsh arguments compete back and forth with the blunt movement of furniture.
"At best this house is haunted and at worst people are going to call you Skits."
Maybe I've been back to the same therapist, maybe I haven't, either way Ashe is a small town, somehow, I see everyone I've already met at the grocery store, regular, though in a professional manner.
“If you can't beat them join them,” she always seemed to be telling me. “They are literally incapable,” she says. “They know not what they do – and never will.” It was only her expression that haunted me, not the words, laden with Psychology. “They will assume you are damaged goods because they have never been in your position.”
Rehab is a huge secret.
I navigate by making the van drop me off at the corner.
Meanwhile the mountain downtown is full of Christmas lights, carefully put up by Rustic's men every year, due to an agreement between Rustic and Ashe. As I step outside the grocery store and walk the side walks, we pretend not to know each other, all kind nods, and hellos.
Though the night-manager and Larke and I have become close friends over regular midnight cigarettes, Larke wants to move to Chicago. “To learn comedy,” he says.
“Is that a thing ...”
“It's where you learn the biz,” he replies as the exhausted night-manager fiddles with the music from her cell phone. Taylor Swift. Miley Cyrus. The Gorilla's “Feel Good, Inc.,” finally.
“NBC has sent several members of the cast of Saturday Night Live's cast there to prepare them for their debut,” Larke says in his cultured way.
Everything about him is a statement: from his brown professor's spectacles to his orange not-quite-moccasins. His reputation concerns his literary prowess and the fact that he will ask any girl out, anywhere, anytime. He changes his mind about pulling on his old fashioned tobacco pipe – a birthday gift from one of his several shockingly-wealthy, former schoolmates. In the store he will find them embarrassing because none of them have ever been in the work force and find our colorful language and conversation intolerable. I once made the mistake of saying Ashe's best Italian restaurants are to be found in Ashe's mostly-Italian neighborhood. “You can live like this,” he says. “Because you know who you are.”
“It helps people,” I tell Nerube. He tries to wait for River's last run each night, so he can bum a cigarette from me.
“I have no idea.”
I failed an important course in school, Human Anatomy and Physiology, BIO168, so important to my field that I should take a full semester to learn it, the professor would have more to say, more questions would be asked by students. I'll have to pay for the course in cash because the Pell Grant does not cover failed classes. I have another prerequisite mini-mester starting in a few weeks – Sociology. My work friends are proud of me; they ask about school or how I did on such and such test; I lie and say, “Fine.” My friends at Rustic roll their eyes and laugh when I say I am struggling as if it were not possible: “So you're getting a ninety-eight instead of a hundred?”
Over the holidays I was surprised to be there, them surprised to see me. They call me “Seldom Seen.”
I keep trying to tell him how kismet it seemed that all the times I had been on a plane it had been this plane, flown by him, always going to the Florida homestead. Despite the environment I cannot say this to Ray as he pilots beside me because I know it is not true.
I stay at Grandma and Grandpa's homestead for weeks, awakening each morning to feed and water the animals and plants, warm the stove, start the coffee, then pick ripe fruits and flowers before stepping into their royal court, an indoor greenhouse, to make sure they are awake and have made it to their thrones on a stage that is at the end of a long, red carpet littered with fallen flower pedals and leaves. While Grandma samples a tray of nearby perfumes and inspects the freshly cut flowers to her right, Grandpa keeps trying to tell me, “He thinks you have no love.”
Each night I work as a milkman at the grocery except it is the huge building and parking lot of the general store of my adolescence. Inside are all the female relatives, each wearing carefully chosen outfits under their aprons and not-quite-blonde versions of brunette hairstyles. To my relief they pretend not to know me, turning up their expressions and spinning away like actresses doing ballet. A celebration begins in the parking lot full of amusement park events, whole buildings made of air-filled plastic, employees, and large groups of children attended by chaperones. Tonight as Ray flies me to work in the dust-cropper-sized plane, he is suddenly gone, the full moon my only source of light while the plane glides toward the ground in smaller and smaller circles.
Though the dash of the plane is of a worn Eighties sports car I glide one circle after another, frightened to land with no power. The plane hits the parking lot like a car swinging into a parking space. Angry and haughty for the interruption, both sisters and Aunt Karen are waiting as I exit the plane, flush with good luck and sudden accomplishment. I keep trying to explain how I managed all the way to the ground without taking anyone out, nor poking any of the buildings with my wings.
I wake soaked in sweat despite the cool air of an open window, shower, and catch the van to the downtown grocery.
Late that night, behind the store, Montana finds me sneaking a cigarette. Hot with anger, he tries to explain to me how he his yearly evaluation keeps being delayed now that it has come out that most other employees have been started out at a much higher wage than what he makes, despite his being promoted, work-wise, long past them.
“It is my fault,” I tell him. “I encouraged performance without telling you to protect yourself.”
“You didn't go to high-school,” he says loudly, trying to get me to understand that he is not naive. “It's been like this all along – principals, teachers, coaches giving preference to some, shitting on others, one story coming out after another. It will never change.”
Near end of shift I smoke a cigarette with the night manager while walking her to her old Camry, lost in thought. “Sometimes you come across to me like some sort of retired human being,” she says at some point.
“... remember when he was watching your laptop at the coffeehouse, when I accidentally paged you to the front during your break?” she is saying.
“Hey … if a comedian has to be able to play straight in order to do comedy, and an actor has to be able to lie effortlessly before being able to pick up acting, then a writer would already be able to – ”
“I saw him steal something off of it … he had a flashdrive.”
She turns and faces me as if she has no time for jokes.
“My existence alone destroys his civilization,” I reply quick, defensive. “Even the Ivy Leagues prefer the best and brightest only come from certain neighborhoods. Think what'll happen when they find out about me. I have bigger problems--”
“--Larke is protected by family money. He only works out of pride--”
“-- It's protected. I can't be caught. I never kissed and told; most women think they have something remotely to do with manhood, I can't write porn, and I'm pretty sure Larke's a virgin. Brit—I'm telling you – it is already impossible for the writings to be – plagiarized.”
“How is it whenever you say 'bosslady,' Montana thinks you're talking about me?”
“I thought Capitalism was crazy because it required human character--”
“--hopefully we're the exception, Dakota.”
“Yeah, right,” he says. “You've got something to do with this bookstore.”
We pull up in his new car, an Eighties boxy sedan, him smiling, me hiding in his “too-big-for-me” hoodie. He exhales, watching the pedestrians walk the sidewalk under dusk.
“I survived the Americans, Dakota. Did Iraq … Now we're doing this.”
“Me and my girlfriend can't decide which to call you, Magic or Mojo.”
He looks like he was born in God's Country, while having features that help him pass for a wiry surfer dude with short, blonde hair. He tends to wear form-fitting clothes, probably GAP. He always treats me incredulously, ever since he started at the grocery.
“With each sale the price doubles. I'm sorry Dakota, but you're short and lithe, and with the way you move you could easily swing from trees, you need to start thinking of whom you'll choose as a bodyguard. You go in, walk according to the floor diagram, reach the Halloween section--”
“--See if the book is there, if not, ask the blonde if it has been sold, she'll ask if I'm the author, I say no I work for the publisher, she gives me the envelope, then we go to kinko's, or whatever that place is called.”
“Quickly, because I gotta meet Montana.”
“Yeah, I've gotta get to church,” he says. “Wait – I thought I was Montana.”
“First of all,” Isaac says, smooth and easy-loud with an almost-deepness that might sound like certainty. “Why you like that; why not walk into a room with a little aggression.”
“Aggression,” I say.
He always seems to be playing the best music, most of which I've never heard. “It's because it's the music you've been listening to your whole life,” he is saying.
“Thing is,” Isaac says later, as we are sitting around his dining table over dice being rolled. His wife and five children are already asleep in rooms down a dark hallway.
I met Isaac by accident, not realizing that Daniel already knew his neighbors. “Never seen a redneck Latino before,” I said to Daniel. “He's Native American,” Daniel replied.
“You're liable to pull in a hot babe, maybe a knockout,” Isaac continues.
I blush. Ashley, Daniel's half-Native friend laughs. She looks like every young girl who ever served me food in Oklahoma. We are all of similar ages. Ashley has had major surgeries concerning Scoliosis since she was four but one could never tell. Isaac finds Daniel to be one of his best friends.
“As I understand it this is a tribe and you're the tribal leader … “ I say.
“Okay!” Isaac exclaims with a laugh. “First, let's drink on that.”
“It's comments like that--” he continues, but then Ashley and Daniel laugh, so he laughs too, rich and laid back.
I rise just as Isaac rises to get another beer. I hand one to Isaac in his dark kitchen lit by the refrigerator.
“Have I ever offended you,” Isaac says quietly.
“No,” I reply. “I doubt it.”
“You keep secrets.”
Outside, Ashley smokes alone. “Pain,” she tells me. “It got old. Made the future seem impossible and kept me – angry.” She pulls on her cigarette, looking out across the night sky from Isaac's front porch, her silhouette tall, defiant. “So when I was fifteen I flushed my useless meds and began a – drug phase.”
Inside, they are talking about “The Green Mile,” a film I still have not gotten all the way through. “The gay guy … “ I ask.
“The French actor,” Ashley says.
“No, the one who kills the mouse.”
“Oh, he's not gay,” she replies with an inquisitive laugh.
“I'm turning into a Wilton,” I say, leaning Charlie Brown.
Isaac laughs. Then turns to Daniel, “Homosexuality?”
“Googled,” I reply. “But I had to click next a lot of times.”
“Really,” asks Daniel.
“Cause all the sites were on how to go from GAY to Straight.”
Later, Isaac and I are smoking cigarettes outside alone.
“You always manage to be in the shadows,” Isaac says. “What you a coywolf --”
#470558 - 09/29/14 12:45 AM
Re: O) Fall
Loc: American South
Stepping outside, down a path separating the house from the main-house, I sneak a cigarette in thick fog.
“You know, some people silently express themselves naturally along they way,” comes Brick's smooth, deep-toned growl. “Instead of being ultra-perfect.”
I had stopped in the smoker gazebo to finish, not realizing anyone else was there. He caught me scanning the eastern mountain peaks across the valley. They peak out above the fog, slate blue against the sunrise.
“It's only that some of my relatives were female,” I turn to tell him. “If they could read you – they could kill you.”
Montana was cut awhile back and can do little about it but find a second job.
I am to make a decision – either open my availability all the way and accept an “official” full-time job, or keep accepting only twenty-hours a week, instead of forty. The hours were cut due to “Obama Care,” says the manager.
“Do I agree as a manager that a person who is in a situation with a parent or kids who needs health insurance should therefore be given the full time slot as opposed to the person who earned it?” he says. “And now that person must scrape by on only twenty-eight hours? No.”
Obama Care remains too complicated to defend.
“No, the vet house is up there,” says Nerube. “That way,” then continues on as we walk to the gazebo.
He pointed the wrong the way.
“You think God isn't doing what is best for your life?” he asks with that smile that looks both mischievous and over confident. He looks the opposite of whom he truly is, so I never really met him until we realized we both new Irby. Others here comment to Nerube that Seldom Seen lights up and acts completely different if I'm talking to him.
“Just because there is a God does not mean he is good,” I reply.
Last week he was a passionate atheist interested in the exact structure of the universe. He always has big dreams, seems easily bored, lively, oddly impatient with the indecisive. Nerube tells me his life as if nothing has ever gone wrong and he is just as good as everyone. I tell him he could get away with the whole thing if maybe he changed on the inside, like how Matt Damon looks into a dresser's mirror with the look of a football quarterback as he plays The Talented Mr. Ripley.
“The changes may be painful, worrisome, and a lot of trouble,” he says, his thin gold necklace twinkling streetlight. “But he is doing his best for you always.”
“Lincoln was super gay,” Jack says.
“Thank you,” says Liz Lemon.
Brick always stands and moves and sleeps with a certain innocence. It's only when his voice is raised dealing with some situation in the main house that you pick up on the opposite.
“Well someone saw something.”
“Some publisher of an anonymous author who isn't me.”
Guys workout to the point it's hard not to wonder a hard joke. Maybe guys like Brick had to get their confidence back up as quickly as possible for survival or great undertaking. Some guys can do it, I figure, because they're not competing with each other.
“Skits,” he says as a statement.
“I believe the book is only being bought for the photographs. It is not read … probably … It gives me a few twenties, here and there. They're safe from plagiarism. My Facebook is tight.”
Sometimes he accidentally inspires someone to handle things a similar way, thinking maybe they are as good, but they're never quite Brick.
“People here know that lifestyle already … ” he says, lowering his voice. “ … Why are you sleeping every other night?”
“Work, so that the writings are not erroneously labeled by The New York Times.”
“Never speak like that again, ever, in front of anyone else – Skits … Not the V.A., not a therapist-- not NOBODY.”
Outside, the air has turned cold and wet. We move to close the windows. In these mountains you could swear you experienced all four seasons in the one day.
“I need you to start thinking of yourself differently.” he says, then pauses, as if to repeat something rehearsed. “I need … your mind … to remain so clear that you can … read the slightest anxiety.”
“Wow, that is the worst advice and everyone's brain works like that. It's a fact.”
Word is, Brick's “gullible.” I only picked up on its once. Several men above his rank seem to have sway over his moment-to-moment opinion, but Brick's character tends to outrank theirs. Once, I stepped into the house-manager's office to catch-a-ride and the female drivers were there, treating him well, while he threw back playful, verbal-barbs in a pleased, 'aw-shucks' manner.
“Why,” he starts. “AT! ALL!”
“It's like media moguls are waking up every morning hopeful with the idea that people are still getting dumber, while business professionals need people to believe in rich and poor – Merchants have no country. They go where the money is. Brick, there is a reason why I could never write a state novel, same as there are other reasons ... I must finish the work before the Yankees decide it's theirs for the taking.”
He shakes his head back and forth.
“It's like the civilian world is a viper's nest and the civilians think its so cool. What if the military were a viper's nest and soldiers walked around thinking, Isn't this awesome.”
“You could end up a man without a country,” he says.
“I was sixteen when the first lynch mob formed around me – and they were of all different colors. That's not trauma, Brick. It's information.”
“ … Jacob cannot find out.”
But I don't think I should help anymore,” one genius alien – semi-human with blue skin – says to another genius alien – a slime covered semi-caterpillar, in the animated film, “Escape from Planet Earth,” 2013. They are about to attempt escape from Area 51 where they are being forced to invent things like the internet, high definition television, smart phones – and the most powerful weapon in the universe. The non-geniuses have been frozen alive and are kept in storage.
“Are you getting paranoid?” replies the semi-caterpillar. “It happens to the best of us. You're really smart, then you start thinking too much, then you start getting paranoid –”
A group of teenage boys who work at the store have seemed over-concerned about my social status. Within the group, status changes constantly for a myriad of irrelevant reasons. I ignore them despite their offers of friendship because they are all actually in their twenties, so their voices and body language come across as bizarre and sad. They mutter “impotent” every chance they get because I do not seem to date. Supposedly they only want to know how fine a competitor I am; they only want information. Standing up to someone has always been the easiest way to make a friend, but I have already met them and do not fall for that trick either.
Finally, as Montana is helping me block dairy, one of their members accosts me, slyly talking locker-room while mentioning as many of my friends as possible. He looks like a tall, brunette elf, and has the reputation for saying “Word on the street is … “ regularly as if he is the word on the street due to his unceasing gossiping and text-messaging.
I turn away from my work and tell him “I'm African-American, dyslexic, castrated, homosexual, and illiterate. You got some sort of problem with that?”
Apparently the last sentence is heard six aisles down by Brit, not to mention's Montana's laugh, so she splits us up. I cashier while Montana bags. He talks about the show “New Girl” due to Zooey Deschanel, which airs on Fox. He doesn't watch “The Mindy Project” though it comes on right after and the protagonists' attitudes and situations are similar.
“If I wanted to watch a gay-bashing feminist, I'd turn on 30Rock,” I tell him.
“New Girl” and “The Mindy Project” have been guilty pleasures of mine, even becoming appointment television on Tuesday nights. “New Girl” has great talent that has been barely-saving terrible writing for years, while “Mindy”'s writing is so strong it infringes on the actors' talents. No comedy or drama writer would work for a network with no journalism around; it would be a dead-end job. It is why an unprecedented show like “The Good Wife” appears on CBS. Plagiarism has become an issue concerning the the Fox Network and FX, Fox's cable network. I've already received their line: “At least someone's making money off of it.”
“Read your novel,” Larke says later, as I walk past Video.
Maybe he knows he was caught by Brit; maybe his opinion of me is so low he doesn't care.
“It's like you told the truth so well you never told the truth at all.”
"I found you," he says in his quickly-walking rush throughout the empty, main rooms of the house. "Did I not find you? Tell me I didn't find you."
No point in following him around, no one else is in the house. If I follow, he'll check out the house and my expression. Used to be teenagers were slight and fleeting, a whole fresh culture in an instant. Then the pre teens started being teenagers on purpose, then didn't know what to do as teenagers. Now they are unreadable, that fresh, that intelligent. So far his ideals seem awfully high, his philosophy more an addiction to true things.
"You know the woods are haunted all around here," he calls to me from a hallway of bedrooms; I can almost see him flicking his brown hair every so often like a teenage Justin Bieber. "Turn a bend and some Civil War soldier is standing there, looking at you. 'Never made it all the way to the house before. Got to take the last part by foot," he says louder now, reentering the parlor.
Whenever he acts this happy he is likeable, true. It also means something in his life has recently gone wrong.
“Yeah, you must drive through the entrance,” I tell him.
With Montana standing serious-now as lookout in the shadows, I race into the woods north of the house where two hills meet and form a small, drying creek. With a too-big shovel, I feverishly plant the corn kernels with a piece of salmon as the thunderstorm claps and strikes.
I see the woman standing there watching me in a yellow raincoat and stop. The woods separating the house from the rest of Rustic swing, then sway above us as I stand up all the way. "It's only that a few multi-billion dollar conglomerates will come after me."
Her laugh splits the rain and wind; the storm lifts, only the swaying tree tops above dripping water. That's the things about a beautiful girl – the world is so complex, no need to notice the slightest detail – she will inevitably choose someone – the world remains a playground instead.
"It's all very serious actually."
If you hang out with Navajos, and say 'African American,' everyone in the juke-joint says “Whooaaahhh.”
If you forget, and say “Black,” in Frazier's, or any other mostly-Caucasian environment, they also say, “Whooaaahhh.”
As I help Nerube move into his new room he tells me of how when he called home his dad picked up instead. As he shows me his new room on the first floor he talks abstractly of his mother and his childhood. His room has no bunks, but two regular beds instead, windows that open, and a door and porch at the end of the hall that sticks out the middle of a steep hill.
“Jacob thinks you'll be President one day,” he tells me with the usual excited twinkle in bright, brown eyes.
I lean against his wall, then look away from him as he continues setting up his half of the room.
“I think Hollywood could make you famous,” he says. “'Cause the show goes on come hell or highwater.”
Outside his window, clouds move across the moon.
“Brick thinks people are going to start walking up to you, trying to give you medals.”
“Nerube, no one wants any of those things to happen.”
(Tuesday, 28 SEP2013)
“Just 'cause Lord of the Rings exists, doesn't mean a hobbit is best for the job,” I tell Dakota.
“He's taller than me,” he says.
Levis stands maybe 5',6” inches tall, bony-skinny, has a triangle-of-a-chin, short, thin, and if-shaven, looks maybe-nineteen. He hails from a small, Christian town in the mountains, crippled by methe and legal. He always looks hopeful, if not haggard. If he's shaved and wearing his Deli cap, he looks something out of a Norman Rockwell.
“Is he funny?”
“He doesn't want to talk about it because of his dad,” Dakota says, his green eyes not-quite-Brick's sage, more dominant with the colors' of spring's new green. “Both his parents are preachers' kids,” Dakota insists. “He knows Everybody, in similar ways to you. You already know his girlfriend.” Compared to Ashe's “most important” citizens, Dakota is poor. Who knew he was such a strategist. Same as in the grocery store, managers come and go while the poor survive.
“I don't mean telling jokes or humorous observances of awkward-racial-moments. Is he funny?”
“I can't get to your website,” Levis says, looking at his slowly shuffling feet. “So many advertisements coming and doubling and constantly reloading. I don't want no trouble.”
“His brother's a real mess,” Dakota says. “He's the one everyone's afraid of.”
How is it Levis has that black eye … The most famous story in Iraq, point-of-view, was of the four-man-squad who took a building. Three continue inside while one watches the door. “You needed crazy-eyes,” they always said …
“If he ever ends up killing someone, he comes to me first.”
“You'll ruin what life it is you have left,” Dakota says.
“I watch 30 Rock,” Levis says. “Maybe she learned from Roseanne.”
“The Ivy Leagues do not feed off the middle class,” I tell them. “Same as the lions do not feed off the limping gazelle, same as the educated do not feed off the uneducated, and the strong do not feed off the weak. Our civilization is 'advanced,'”
“I don't believe you,” Levis says.
“He already knows he might not survive you,” Dakota says. “Is that what you really want?”
“My brother's in treatment,” Levis says as if to the grocery's four walls only.
“Why you and Montana never speak ...” I ask Dakota.
“Because I accidentally insulted his family,” he says.
“Yeah,” Levis says. “When's the last time you slept?”
Shifted to a knock on the door where Brick stands, soaked through. I back away, allowing him in as his rain splashes against the house's wood floors.
“Ten thousand dollars,” he exclaims. “Gone. The clerk wrote and cashed a check, then run off. The water's getting cut.”
He follows me in the kitchen, where food and drink is always doing something. He pours himself a cup of coffee. Awkward silence threatens as he stares at it.
“Don't make me ask.”
I step away to find the hiding place. Not since my twenties have I had to count so much scattered money. Some of the twenties are so worn it's obvious they've been kept rolled tight at the base of back pockets, between toes inside socks, and twisted and folded into tight braids and fresh weaves.
Upon returning, Brick's face is wet, then suddenly reassuring. “Listen to me,” he says. “If you ever got to – you take enough and go. You hear me? Just never mention this place.”
“It's a tabloid, right?” Montana says.
“It's The Wall Street Journal.”
“The guy who kept snapping pictures while Princess Diana bled out.”
“He bugged the nine-eleven families.”
“More like … he would have.”
“He's credited for the technique of encouraging low-self esteem just in time for commercials. It's why the fictional characters in the fictional worlds always have spectacular sex lives. It's how they sell their ideas.”
“Actually, it-girls had already begun doing that to their own gender.”
“We learned about it in high-school,” he says. “My teacher said he can probably get away with it as long as he never markets to adolescents.”
“Overall, he's right about Arabia, Persia, and the Middle East, though.”
During the trial run, Dakota drives while Levis watches the road.
“Maybe you're already in the habit of defending Clintons,” Levis says.
Levis knows history in an effortless, up-to-date way that never seems hard-earned – “highschool,” he tells me.
“I read Primary Colors when I was sixteen because my mom gasped in the theater when she saw Kathy Bates in the front seat of that truck,” I tell him. “Madame Secretary, Bill Clinton's autobiography, Colin Powell's –“
“--they were a great cast of characters,” Dakota says.
Through a slit in Dakota's dark, wool blanket, Ashe speeds by in pastel colors and twinkling lights. Levis never wears denim, but Dakota wears his Dad's old blue-jean jacket, a relic from before they went metro; the edge of its collar shows above his headrest.
“Politics is just as ugly as Hollywood, Dakota. Notice how difficult it is to find a Washington Post or L.A. Times anywhere near these peaks.” The car stops at a stoplight. “It's like he's more worried about Kenneth Starr then Colin Powell. Starr's never going to win a presidency, not even in a third world country. He couldn't even topple one from the inside.”
“Maybe Powell's more worried about the Democrat's version of a Kenneth Starr,” Levis says.
“What if Powell doesn't run?” Dakota asks.
“Is that a fact …” Dakota chuckles.
“Clinton doesn't want his wife and Powell talking it out in public for two years – he wants them to duke it out while journalists talk it out instead. Even if talking it out is best for Americans, he has his own priorities.”
“What if Republicans present someone similar to Powell?” Levis asks.
“Then they really do think Americans are stupid.”
“Do you think President Clinton's a genius?” says Dakota.
“He doesn't know what one is. Let's say both me and Mozart hear Bill Clinton utter the word 'genius.' We'd both receive the same information. None of this has any relevance, Levis. I enjoy the idea that for the un-credible Republicans to land such legitimacy as Colin Powell, they'd have to agree to him owning them.”
“Do you think Powell would like you in real life?” Levis asks.
“ … kinda doubt it. There's no way I've ever crossed the minds of the powerful.”
Dakota pulls up toward the bookstore.
“At most this'll be a sketch one day. Clinton has to win – that makes him dangerous, but fun, while Colin Powell has nothing to prove. Hillary decides the rest.”
“Politics is exciting though?” Levis asks.
“ … same as quicksand.”
“It's better for my daughter here,” Lyndsay is saying, as Marcus sits back down beside her. She still has the same long, straight blonde hair, still boy-crazy as if there was such a thing as whatever she sees in them.
I'm not the best at the grill, so I have no future here. It's hilarious the ones who can handle thirty steaks at one time – one was a homeless-teenager type, lives the good life now, flipping steaks the only thing he'd had to offer.
“I like the structure here,” she says. “My daughter will still be raised within a cautionary tale, sure ...”
My cooking is preferred, otherwise, and Tango's kitchen never stresses that I am one of the few who does not speak Spanish. Late at night I work as a bartender, helping with downtown Ashe's after-show crowd.
“Father's farther away, plus mine, but everything's better.”
Jacob and Brick sit in the round booth in a corner of the dark restaurant. I don't think they know I work here also; I felt it best to ask forgiveness instead of permission. They must've left a meeting; there are several regular ones downtown due to Church St., an old landmark-of-a-street nearby.
“Marco asks about you,” Marcus says.
Back then, concerning Marco, it was like I stole Marcus's best friend, his comedy and curiosity was so sharp, vibrant, and genuine. It was only when I left Wilton that Marco leaned toward the majority – they changed their talk about me once I seemed to have been promoted. He called me his marriage counselor, his best friend and confidant.
“In Washington D.C., we were all best friends,” Lyndsay is saying. “How is it ever going to be like that again?”
Outside, on a cigarette break, as the usual college crowd hoops and hollers their way through the front door, around the corner, there's Brick suddenly smiling at me as he exhales smoke. “Skits.”
Quick, I'm explaining to him how it is Nerube's dad's a cop, and how Nerube's always around Brick and all three of us have our own problems.
He looks at me half-curious, even though he probably knows more than I want to think about.
“Brick, I thought it would last forever.”
An unexpected crowd formed due to a high-school basketball game. Ashe hasn't won like this in several years. The restaurant is trashed, music blasts, and young girls with little work-force experience run around in full drama.
“Come on,” she says, pulling my hand in the crowd. “Dance with me.”
“Noll ... I'm working.”
Billie Holiday sings the blues slow and soft for a long time, her emotions symbolic, her point of view infusing.
“I'm dating again,” she whispers nonchalantly, her hand around the base of my neck, more disclaimer than confession.
Brick finds me sitting Indian-style on my bunk; Nerube follows close behind. “What did you do?” he asks quick, before Brick sits down on the opposite bunk. “Be quiet, Nerube,” he says.
“What's wrong ...” he asks me with his easy smile; Brick always seems happy to see me.
“I stopped looking to the New York Times for novels when I was nine-years-old, Brick,” I tell him. “I still don't know what they want.”
He raises his right brow inquisitively. Outside the window behind his head rain pours, hitting the tin roof above us like tiny hail. “But why are you sad?”
“I think they were pretending to be … gatekeepers or something … when really they were trying to ... play catchup …”
“Someone should hand them an Oscar,” says Nerube.
“SHUT up, Nerube!” yells Brick. “And you're sure they weren't making the novel worse on purpose?”
“Actually, if you look at what went down,” I tell him. “That's a distinct possibility.”
Nerube steps out the bedroom door, looking for eavesdroppers, then steps back in again.
“What actions have you taken?” Brick asks in his twelve-step-way.
“I sent them a warning shot early, making the novel boring just-in-time so as to buck them off. I fixed it back the following Monday. As I understand it, they were really mad. Their sense of entitlement never wavered.”
“What else did you do?”
From the bedroom door, Nerube looks away, then back, as if he wants to look at the scene of a fresh car accident. He inhales sharply, as if in anticipation.
“Later, I sent them my name, so they could vet away, thinking that was their problem.”
Brick rises up. “Skits … are you crazy?” he yells. “Are you stupid?”
“That's not the coming issue. They'll make it about morality. I don't think they like that I'll work two and three menial jobs the rest of my life if just to keep their hands off it.”
“You sent the email from here,” Nerube says quick. “Jacob's known for awhile.”
“What does he care?”
“There's a chance if you don't cave to them they'll slander you as punishment.”
“Holy, shit,” I tell him. “I have an extensive list of crimes, Nerube.”
“They can also start a campaign to slander you outside their newspaper. They can even have you blacklisted.”
“I can do twenty years. I know I can do twenty years. Every morning, another unflattering, embarrassing article about me on their front page. Maybe twenty-five.”
“What if you took the last of the fiction out?” he says. “Just win once and for all.”
“I could ruin a lot of lives, including getting innocent people harmed or killed.”
Brick stands ruminating, looking at the closet door while clenching his teeth. “Do you trust them?” he asks me.
Isaac walks quickly in front, guiding us lugging our swim gear through his reservation as he tells of how it is his family owns a whole mountain. Somewhere there is a watering hole that marks the spot of a bootlegger's stash.
“How you know how to do that?” he asks, turning to face us.
“What … “ Ashley says casual, mean, slowly trailing her bare toes against the forest floor as Daniel leans against a tree, flushed.
“No. Not you,” Isaac says to Ashley while looking and pointing at me. “Someone's steps aren't making noise.”
In a shack-of-a-juke joint are all cedar walls and cabinetry, pinewood chairs and pool tables played under different clouds of cigarette smoke.
“Bootleg somethin', ain't it ...” Isaac is saying as we find a spot and Ashley nods hello to minglers as several ask of her sisters and brother.
“No, no,” Ashley keeps laughing as I speak to her friends. “No, no.”
After sneaking back through the woods, Montana's way, I shower, turn on the television, then start looking for signs of life.
“They didn't show,” she says.
The house has been strangely empty. All the other bedroom doors were locked, so maybe I went exploring into a one-room basement I didn't know the house had.
“I have a date.”
“Yes. I understand.”
“No, not the baby. The railroad.”
Having accidentally fallen asleep on the foyer couch while playing watch, I shift to Isaac and Ashley's reservation. The Jeep idles behind me, the headlights illuminating Ashley as she walks determined, back and forth across the crumbling, concrete road.
“There's only one woman like that still intact in America,” she tells me. “And she's in the backseat of your --”
Shifted to Nerube's graduation. Brick distracts Nerube easily enough because the graduation has turned into an outdoor-fall party. I don't go the main route, but cut across to find Montana's way, then west toward the house. Inside, the rooms are the same, no dust, fresh flowers in a vase on the table, though no one lives here. Stepping through the halls, past the open doors spilling sunlight, I catch the slightest wisp of white lace hanging above bare feet, there in my left peripheral, then in my right, along with the slightest whisper of the sweetest laugh.
After turning from the buffet toward the open counter of the kitchen, I wait for Rustic's real-world-powerful chef to add cobbler to my tray. I notice his tears as he looks at me.
“I don't understand,” I say to him.
“Only it is the extraordinary change,” he replies. “It is like mourning.”
“Yes,” I tell him, turning my head to look out the windows. “It is the mornings that are so great.”
“Thing is, Brick,” I tell him, sitting in the house manager's office, across from his desk.
“... I'm thirty-one … ” he has said, in his deep, round-sounding voice, after having performed a series of drug tests. “Don't you know by now how you ended up here?” he asks, as if he's trying to change subjects, or tact.
“It was the right thing to do,” I say suddenly official. “Otherwise every moment would've been sexualized against me because there is no God, Nature has no fortifications, and the bad win, while children reason that they are monsters because only they can see the verses, not because they are now the poorest in the race. I've known for almost ten years, Brick. It's impossible to not like another human being, once you realize you could have done worse.”
“When I saved my life I ruined it, I mean,” I tell him. “If that's what you're asking.”
He is speechless, his green eyes wide, thinking, while I stare at him like one of Montana's Civil War ghosts who happened upon him, wondering how it is Brick's blocking my line of sight.
“I don't understand how it was you were honorably dis--”
“--There were no acts of cowardice-- holy shit.”
“What about school? I mean--” he says.
“I already know that to see clearly one must respect life all the way,” I tell him. “And you hold on to that, you hold on, even though now that you're holding, you see disrespect all around.”
“Thing is, about today,” he says. “Your strategy. Like an addict handling a secret overdose.”
“Thing about history,” I tell him. “The idea of an heir, a good son.”
“Only there is no way to prove it,” he says, looking at a test cup. “And nothing is to be done.”
“That's their spin on it.”
“Chuck … “ he says, his eyes returning. “I'm sure it is for traditional reasons.”